Republicans are circulating a draft immigration bill that would overhaul the country’s legal immigration system, boost border security, overturn rules that govern family separation at the border and provide a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The draft bill, which was born out of weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations among moderates, conservatives and House leadership, represents the most concrete step yet House Republicans have taken to tackle immigration even as the party faces long odds for the bill ever becoming law.
The bill, which reflects President Donald Trump’s desire to address “four pillars” of immigration, includes $25 billion for border security including the President’s wall, an end to the diversity visa lottery, cuts to family-based visas and a path to citizenship for DACA recipients through a program that would be a merit-based point system and would allow other immigrants to attain permanent status alongside DACA recipients. The cut visas would be reallocated to accommodate the new green card system and more employment-based visas.
Still unknown is whether the bill, which was enough to keep moderates from moving ahead with their rebellion to push for votes on other four other pieces of immigration legislation, will have enough support in the Republican conference to pass. Moderates made major concessions in the legislation, but members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee, two top conservative groups in the conference, haven’t said where they stand yet.
Rep. Mark Walker, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee and has been helping to negotiate, said he still needs to read the bill to decide on his vote.
“I think it’s going to be split (among conservatives), I do,” the North Carolina Republican said, citing the omission of mandatory worker verification as a major issue for some.
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Scott Perry, who has been in negotiations, said he may not be able to support the measure because, once citizens, former DACA recipients could be able to sponsor their parents for legal status.
“I’m going to have concerns, I’m going to tell you right now,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters he’s already found one thing in the bill he had not agreed to, and is reserving announcing support for the legislation. He would not share what the error was.
“I know there’s at least one drafting error. That’s why it’s a draft,” the North Carolina Republican said. “So we’re going to go through that draft. Hopefully I’ll have a better opinion tonight.”
Democrats have also already expressed concerns.
“It’s a pretty terrible bill. I didn’t think it was possible to get as bad as (the) Goodlatte (bill), but they sure found a way to get close to that,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat who’s the Congressional Hispanic Caucus whip. “Whether they want to call it a bridge or a path to citizenship, I think it’s fake. It’s shifting to a merit-based system at the expense of all the diversity visas we have around the world, so what Republicans in Congress are trying to do is ‘we’re closed to any immigration.’ “
The bill also includes a host of other Trump administration priorities, such as allowing for the lengthy detention of undocumented immigrations awaiting deportation, making it harder for individuals to pursue asylum in the US and several provisions that would require cities to comply with federal immigration enforcement requests and would allow victims of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to sue the cities where they happened, an attempt to crack down on sanctuary cities.
The bill also would address a growing concern on the border: the separation of parents from their children. The bill would overturn a settlement agreement that children cannot be detained more than three weeks so that families are kept together, but doing so would allow entire families to be detained indefinitely. The bill would also not outright prohibit the prosecution of parents who cross the border illegally with children, which is the Trump administration policy that is resulting in family separations, as children cannot follow their parents into the criminal justice system.
The bill is expected to be voted on next week, but may still undergo changes, according to a source familiar with negotiations.
The major question is whether the bill will have the support of the White House. If Trump backs it, that could propel the measure to passage. If he torpedoes it, the legislation would certainly fail. On Wednesday, ahead of the bill’s release, White House aide Stephen Miller told reporters the President was supportive of the effort to find consensus.
“The President has been extremely supportive of what (Reps.) Raul Labrador, Bob Goodlatte and Steve Scalise are doing to unify the Republican conference,” Miller said, without discussing the substance of the bill itself.